Home>Campaigns>Currie will name Jones as Democratic redistricting chairman, with Avelenda as executive director

New Jersey Democratic State Chairman John Currie. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

Currie will name Jones as Democratic redistricting chairman, with Avelenda as executive director

Sweeney, Taffet, Cirillo and Testa to be formally appointed today, with Sarlo aide as a top staffer

By David Wildstein, November 15 2020 4:30 pm

Democratic State Chairman John Currie will announce later today that LeRoy Jones, Jr. will serve as his party’s chairman of the New Jersey Legislative Reapportionment Commission, with Saily Avelenda as the executive director.

Currie will name Jones, Senate President Steve Sweeney, Middlesex County Democratic insider Gary Taffet, West New York Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo, and Fairview Borough Administrator Diane Testa as the five voting Democratic commissioners, as first reported by the New Jersey Globe on Friday.

Chris Eilert, who serves as chief of staff to Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) and as the Wood-Ridge Borough Administrator, will serve on the commission’s Democratic staff.  Keith Furlong, one of Currie’s top political advisors, is also expected to play a role for Democrats in drawing new legislative districts.

Sarlo and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) will also play a play a major role in legislative redistricting on the Democratic side, sources said.  This was also reported by the NJ Globe on Friday.

The appointment of Avelenda as the top Democratic staffer puts a Latina and a grassroots progressive leader, in the room for major decisions as Democrats negotiate a new map following the 2020 Census.  Avelenda is the executive director of the Democratic State Committee.

Sources familiar with the process of naming the five Democratic commissioners credit George Helmy, the chief of staff to Gov. Phil Murphy, in preserving the commitment for Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin to each get one pick on the commission.

Currie had initially resisted naming Sweeney, a longtime political foe.

That came late last year in a deal to re-elect Currie as state chairman, with additional seats going to Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties.

The commission had originally been expected to redraw New Jersey’s 40 legislative districts in time for the 2021 general elections, but concerns over the timing of 2020 Census data slowed down during the coronavirus pandemic caused Democratic legislative leaders to postpone the process.

Voters approved a constitutional amendment last week that will allow the current map drawn in 2011 to remain in place for another two years if the U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t certify population numbers to the state by February 15.

It’s unlikely that the U.S. Census will meet that deadline.

Taffet, a former chief of staff to Gov. James E. McGreevey, is the choice of Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.

He will protect the political interests of the Assembly Democratic Caucus and Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin McCabe.

Cirillo’s presence on the panel is to be the eyes and ears of Nicholas Sacco, the mayor of North Bergen and a State Senator from Hudson County.

Testa is a close ally of Bergen County Democratic Chairman Paul Juliano.

Juliano’s pick allowed Democrats to ensure some gender balance on the mapmaking panel.

His appointment of a woman allowed Democrats to avoid the political pitfalls of an all-male redistricting commission.

There was a late push to convince Sacco to replace Cirillo with Assemblywoman Anjelica Jimenez (D-West New York), another Sacco ally who would increase the diversity of the redistricting commission.

Sacco, who backed Currie for the chairmanship and put Hudson County state committee votes in his column, stood firm on his pick of Cirillo, sources with direct knowledge of the appointments told the NJ Globe.

Jones, the Essex County Democratic Chairman and a former assemblyman, spent nearly a year battling Currie for the post, but withdrew as part of an agreement that will allow him to ascend to the state chairmanship in June 2021.

The New Jersey Globe first reported that Jones, Sweeney, Taffet and Cirillo would get the posts more than seven months ago.  The Globe had initially identified Juliano or former Paramus Councilman Joseph Garcia as possible Bergen picks.

GOP State Chairman Doug Steinhardt picked the five Republican commissioners in April, tapping Essex County GOP Chairman Al Barlas as the chairman,

Steinhardt also named Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr., Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, former Republican State Chairman Michael Lavery, and Salem County Republican Chair Linda DuBois.

Kean is currently locked in a tight congressional race in New Jersey’s 7th district against Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes).  If he wins, he is expected to give up his legislative redistricting seat and Steinhardt would designate a replacement.

The commission has eight men and two women, Testa and DuBois.  Jones is the lone Black member and Barlas is the only Muslim and South Asian.

Murphy aides had aggressively sought greater diversity on the commission, something they achieved by picking Avelenda as chief of staff.

Correction at 9:49 AM in November 16: an earlier version of this story listed Avelenda as chief of staff for the Democratic commission; she will be executive director. 

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